Five reasons why I help fund abortions for Irish women

As part of a special series on The Pat Kenny Show, UK-based Mara Clarke explains why she believes it’s morally right to help women access safe, legal abortions in clinics across England

Starting Wednesday December 2nd, The Pat Kenny Show looks at the various elements from the women who travel, to the clinicians who carry out terminations in the UK and whether or not there is the political will to hold a referendum. Here, UK-based Mara Clarke explains why she is helping Irish women gain safe and legal access to abortion.

My name is Mara Clarke, and I’m here to talk to you about abortion. Yes, abortion - the medical procedure. The word meant to make us hang our heads in shame. The word that’s whispered if it’s spoken at all, or Googled by women desperate to find safe information about what to do if they are pregnant – and don’t want to be.

I was asked why the people involved with Abortion Support Network (ASN) help women in Ireland and Northern Ireland get abortions. Usually when I’m asked this, I quip that this isn’t the right question.

The right question is why, in 2009, did a group of volunteers in England need to start raising money to help women in Ireland and Northern Ireland get abortions.

Not why do we do this – why do we have to? So here are the five reasons why I, ASN’s part-time paid director, and our 50+ volunteers believe it is important and morally right to help women in Ireland (and Northern Ireland, and the Isle of Man) access safe, legal abortions in England.

Women with money have options...

...And women without money have babies, or take desperate measures. Studies show that making abortion illegal doesn’t stop or even reduce abortion. Flying to England and having an abortion costs €570 to €2,800 - depending on stage of pregnancy and other circumstances.

What if you don’t have money? I could list out the things ASN clients have done in attempt to self-abort before calling us, but I don’t want anyone to read this and get ideas. Suffice to say – it would shock you into thinking we were back in 1950 and not 2015, with the slight variation that now women can Google ‘ways to self-abort’. (Please don’t - Call ASN instead. We’ll help you).

We are often asked who our ‘typical’ caller is. We’ve heard from 2,300 women, couples and families. Clients have ranged in age from 13 to 51, been in or escaping abusive relationships, been pregnant as result of rape, homeless, had serious (but not life threatening) medical conditions, or been told a wanted pregnancy wouldn’t survive.

Or they’ve already had children and didn’t want more, or were childless but didn’t want children now, or they didn’t want children full stop.  

The common factor shared by ASN clients is that they are forced by a combination of Ireland’s draconian abortion laws and poverty to call a group of strangers in England and involve us in their lives - and that’s not fair.

Parenthood should be a choice

Being a parent is a wonderful, important job. It’s also a job-for-life with no pay. Perhaps it shouldn’t be forced upon people as the punishment for having non-procreative sex but not €570 and €2,800 in the bank. We think that realising you are not ready or able to care for a(nother) child is a moral choice.

Accidents - and tragedies - happen

I can hear some people saying: ‘If you aren’t ready to have a baby, don’t have sex!’ I would love to see one of the political parties put forward a ban on sex-for-pleasure. No sex for anyone who isn’t trying to have a baby. That’s not going to happen. But ACCIDENTS happen.

Yes, even if you are using birth control. Even if you take the morning-after pill. Either we accept that there will be unplanned pregnancies that require terminating, or we ban non-procreative sex.

Of course, some people need to terminate much-wanted, much-planned pregnancies - people who find out that the foetus is not viable, or has serious malformations, and will die before or during birth or be condemned to a short life of pain. Some women and couples choose to continue those pregnancies. The ones who don’t should be able to have abortions in Ireland.

The death of Savita Halappanavar on 28 October 2012, at University Hospital Galway in Ireland, led to protesters calling for a review of the abortion laws in Ireland.

Judge not lest ye be judged

I’ve lost count of the number of people who called our helpline and said: ‘I was pro life – until…’

‘...until my sister fell pregnant. Until my daughter was raped. Until I got cancer. Until my partner lost his job. Until my youngest child was diagnosed with leukaemia. Until we discovered the baby won’t survive past birth. I was completely against abortion – until I needed an abortion.’

I am not calling these women and men hypocrites. But I would chance that many of you are one unplanned pregnancy away from being pro-choice. Not that you will ultimately choose to have an abortion, but that you will appreciate having the right to make the decision for yourself.

What’s the alternative?

What happens if you ban abortion? Women with money fly to England and women without money do desperate things. There is no happy place where all the women with unwanted pregnancies have the babies and everyone lives happily ever after.

There will always be women who try dangerous things. Given that the majority of women seeking abortions are already mothers, banning abortion has three classes of victims – the dead mother, the dead foetus, and the motherless children left behind.

We respect people who are against abortion. But we have no respect for people who think they have the right to make that decision for someone else.

And the phone keeps ringing...

Why do we do this work? Well, because our phone keeps ringing. People call, email and text us in desperation, at the ends of their tether, hoping that we can help them.
At Abortion Support Network, we don’t ask women how they got pregnant, or why they want abortions. Women with money don’t have to subject their personal choices to such judgement.

So, I guess that’s the final reason we do this work, or at least the final reason I do this work – because there but for the grace of God, a valid passport and money in the bank go I.

Go to The Pat Kenny Show podcast section to hear the special series Ireland's Abortion Journey.

Listen to Mara Clarke's interview with The Pat Kenny Show: